Monday, October 24, 2016

Review of "Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon" by Steve Sheinkin




This is the story of the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. Once scientists learned that uranium atoms could be split, leading to a chain reaction that would cause an enormous explosion, the race was on. The U.S. asssembled a team of physicists, chemists, and other specialists which secretly worked night and day to build a bomb from radioactive uranium and plutonium. At the same time Germany was producing and shipping large quantities of heavy water out of Norway, to facilitate their own bomb development. And the Soviet Union, lacking the know-how to make an atom bomb, planted spies to steal the plans from the U.S.

Steve Sheinkin's book presents a fascinating picture of how the first atomic bombs were built. Needing a large number of top physicists to accomplish the task, the U.S recruited people from universities across the country. Overrnight, scientists would 'disappear' from their jobs, secretly making their way to Los Alamos, New Mexico where a bomb-making research facility was assembled.

The book mentions many scientists/support staff at Los Alamos, especially Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, who was in charge of the facility. Oppenheimer oversaw every aspect of the work, working himself to the bone to accomplish the goal. At the same time a few scientists sympathetic to the Soviet cause stole plans to send to Russia.

As they builit their own bomb the Allies were desperate to prevent Germany from doing the same. Thus they trained a skilled team to parachute into Norway, sneak into the heavy water plant, and sabotage the facility - which would greatly slow down Germany's research. This is a fascinating section of the book, suspenseful and exciting.

Though the outcome of the bomb research is not a mystery, the reader inevitably gets caught up in the excitement of the tale. The story covers building, testing, and eventually using atomic bombs - and the ambivalence of the scientists who created this devastating weapon. A well-written interesting book.

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